Rabindranath Tagore Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

Rabindranath TagoreRabindranath TagoreImage via writersmug.com

Article abstract: The prolific author of more than one hundred books of verse, fifty dramas, forty works of fiction, and fifteen books of essays, Nobel laureate Tagore is recognized as a pioneer in Bengali literature, particularly the short story, and is internationally acclaimed as one of the world’s finest lyric poets. The foundation for Tagore’s literary achievements is his vision of the universal man, based on his unique integration of Eastern and Western thought.

Early Life

Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861, into a prosperous Bengali family in Calcutta, India. The fourteenth child and eighth son of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi, he grew up surrounded by the artistic and intellectual pursuits of his elders. Agricultural landholdings in East Bengal supported the family’s leisurely lifestyle, and their Calcutta mansion was a center for Bengalis who, like the Tagores, sought to integrate Western influences in literature, philosophy, arts, and sciences into their own culture. Young Tagore was a sensitive and interested child who, like his siblings, lived in awe of his father, a pillar of the Hindu reform group Brahmo Samaj. Cared for mainly by servants because of his mother’s ill health, he lived a relatively confined existence, watching the life of crowded Calcutta from the windows and courtyards of his protected home.

From an early age, Tagore’s literary talents were encouraged. Like the other Tagore children, he was thoroughly schooled in Bengali language and literature as a foundation for integrating culturally diverse influences, and, throughout his long career, Tagore composed most of his work in Bengali. In 1868, he was enrolled in the Oriental Seminary, where he quickly rebelled against formal education. Unhappy, transferring to different schools, Tagore nevertheless became appreciated as a budding poet during this time both in school and at home. In 1873, he was withdrawn from school to accompany his father on a tour of northern India and the Himalayas. This journey served as a rite of passage for the boy, who was deeply influenced by his father’s presence and by the grandeur of nature. It also provided his first opportunity to roam in open countryside.

Returning to Calcutta, Tagore boycotted school and, from 1873 on, was educated at home by tutors and his brothers. In 1874, he began to recite publicly his poetry, and his first long poem was published in the monthly journal Bhārati. For the next four years, he gave recitations and published stories, essays, and experiments in drama. In 1878, Tagore went to England to prepare for a career in law at University College, London, but withdrew in 1880 and returned to India. Tagore’s stay in England was not a happy one, but during those fourteen months, his intellectual horizons broadened as he read English literature with Henry Morley and became acquainted with European music and drama.

Life’s Work

Returning to India, Tagore resumed his writing amid the intellectual family life in Calcutta, especially influenced by his talented elder brothers Jyotirindranath (writer, translator, playwright, and musician) and the scholarly Satyendranath. Tagore’s view of life at this time was melancholy; yet, with the metrical liberty of his poems in Sandhya Sangit (1882; evening songs), it became clear that he was already establishing new artistic and literary standards. Tagore then had a transcendental experience that abruptly changed his work. His gloomy introspection expanded in bliss and insight into the outer world, and Tagore once again perceived the innocent communion with nature that he had known as a child. This vision was reflected in Prabhat Sangit (1883; morning songs), and his new style was immediately popular. By his mid-twenties, Tagore had published devotional songs, poetry, drama, and literary criticism and was established as a lyric poet, primarily influenced by the early Vaishnava lyricists of Bengal and by the English Romantics. In 1883, he married Mrinalini Devi and continued to reflect his optimism in a burst of creativity that lasted for the next twenty years. During this period, he began to write nonsymbolic drama, and his verse Kari O Komal (1887; sharps and flats) is considered a high point in his early lyrical achievement.

In 1890, Tagore’s father sent him to Shelaidaha, the family home in eastern Bengal, to oversee the family estates, and thus began the most productive period of Tagore’s prolific career. His sympathetic observation of the daily activity of the Bengali peasant, as well as an intimacy with the seasons and moods of the rural countryside, sharpened Tagore’s literary sensitivity and provided him with subject matter for his poems and essays during the 1890’s. Tagore also wrote short stories—developing the genre in Bengali literature—and in 1891 started the monthly journal Sadhana, in which he published some of his work. In addition to literary output, Tagore began to lecture and write on his educational theories and the politics of Bengal, and he came more and more into public life. In 1898, he took his family to live in Shelaidaha, planning to spare his children the schooling against which he rebelled by educating them himself. The family soon moved to Santiniketan at Bolpur, where Tagore founded his experimental school, which became a lifelong commitment. He continued to write ceaselessly during this time: stories, poems, essays, textbooks, and a history of India. In 1901, he became editor of The Bengal Review and also launched into a period as a novelist, reflecting the political situation of the time in his work. Tagore’s Gora (1910; English translation, 1924) is considered by many to be the greatest Bengali novel.

The year 1902 saw the school in serious financial condition and also brought the death of Tagore’s wife. Others close to him passed away—his daughter in 1903, his favorite pupil in 1904, and his father in 1905—and Tagore experienced a time of withdrawal. In 1905, he was pulled back into public life by the division of Bengal. Tagore served as a highly visible leader in the antipartition nationalist movement and composed patriotic prose and songs popular with the people. In 1907, however, concerned about growing violence in the movement and its lack of social reform, Tagore suddenly withdrew from politics and retired to Santiniketan, where he resumed a life of educational and literary activity and meditation. Tagore’s intuitive belief in the spirituality of life and the inherent divinity of all things was reflected in his work during this time: educational addresses at his school, a series of symbolic dramas that criticized monarchy, and an outpouring of religious poetry expressing his extremely intimate realization of God. A collection of such poems was published as Gitānjali (1910; Gitanjali (Song of Offerings), 1912). During this time in relative seclusion, Tagore the individual poet became, more and more, Tagore the universal man. When next he emerged, it would be to international acclaim.

Tagore became known outside India through the influence of the English painter William Rothstein, the organizer of the India Society in London. Rothstein arranged to publish a private edition of Gitanjali for India Society members, and, in 1912, Tagore’s English translation appeared with an introduction by William Butler Yeats. Tagore and his poetry were introduced to influential critics and writers such as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, John Galsworthy, John Masefield, Ernest Rhys, and Ezra Pound. His reputation spread to Europe and to the United States, where, in 1912, his work appeared in the journal Poetry and a public edition of Gitanjali was published in 1913. In 1912, and again in 1913, Tagore lectured in the United States on religious and social themes, bringing the wisdom of the East to the West in his desire to move the world toward a true humanity. In November, 1913, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In December, the University of Calcutta conferred upon him an honorary doctorate of letters, and he was knighted by the British government in 1915. Underlying Tagore’s success at this time was his apprehension about the future. Essentially a nonconformist and solitary soul, Tagore believed that he would have no peace from that time on; this, indeed, did prove to be true. Sudden international recognition brought Tagore intense public response, ranging from adulation to disenchantment, and he was an often misunderstood public figure for the rest of his life. At the height of his popularity, Tagore published Balaka (1916; A Flight of Swans, 1955), which enhanced his reputation as a mystical poet and is considered by many to be his greatest book of lyrics. He also toured Japan and the United States, giving a series of successful lectures later published as Nationalism (1919) and Personality (1917). Yet Tagore’s reputation began to diminish almost as soon as it reached its peak. Some critics have proposed that the materialistic West was not able to appreciate the spiritual depth of the East, while others suggest that the poet and his publishers were themselves to blame for inept translation and unsystematic presentation. Forced to abandon his lecture tour in 1917 because of ill health, Tagore returned to India to a period of tragedy. Although he was greatly disturbed by World War I and denounced it in his writings, Tagore was also unable to endorse wholeheartedly the activities of his own culture. In 1918, with the money received from his writing, lectures, and the Nobel Prize, Tagore founded an international university—Visva-Bharati—at Santiniketan. Yet in 1919, as he was forming the nucleus of the faculty, political turmoil in India caused Tagore to resign his knighthood in protest against the British massacre of Indians at Amritsar. As Tagore sought to unify humanity in a world that seemed at odds with his philosophy, he began to find himself less and less popular.

In 1920, Tagore undertook another international lecture tour to raise funds for the school, but the receptions in England and the United States were particularly disappointing. During the last two decades of his life, despite increasing ill health, which often forced him to cancel lectures, and problems with public relations, Tagore traveled widely in support of his ideals of a universal humanity and world peace. He also continued to write until the end of his life, mainly poetry—which critics perceive as uneven—and essays. In addition, Tagore began painting as a hobby in his later years and pursued it with increasing seriousness. In 1930, Tagore delivered the Hibbert Lectures at Oxford University, which were published in 1931 as the Religion of Man, and, in 1940, Oxford awarded him an honorary doctorate of letters. Because of frail health, Tagore received this honor at Santiniketan, which had become a permanent residence in his later years. On August 7, 1941, Tagore died at his family home in Calcutta.

Summary

Internationally known as a humanist who sought to reconcile such apparent opposites as man and nature, materialism and spiritualism, and nationalism and internationalism, Rabindranath Tagore expressed a philosophy that was uniquely his own. His vision of the underlying wholeness of life was based on intuitive synthesis of classic Eastern religious texts and the works of early Indian poets and philosophers with Western thought and modern European literature. Although critics sometimes find it difficult to separate his distinguished literary career from his considerable role in transforming the Indian culture from the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, Tagore’s place in history is nevertheless a literary one. In the East, he is known as a great poet and thinker; in the West, he is best known as the author of Gitanjali, which is characteristic of his work and considered to be his masterpiece. Recognized as a prolific and accomplished writer in all genres, Tagore is internationally acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest lyric poets.

Tagore, a man of great courage and gentleness, of nobility and grace, is generally viewed as a symbol of the integration of East and West. Yet, many critics believe that the West has known him only superficially. They suggest that much of Tagore’s best work remains accessible only in Bengali, and reading Tagore in translation—even his own translation—offers no real appreciation of his scope or the depth of his genius. Tagore’s biographer, Kripalani, stated that “he lived as he wrote, not for pleasure or profit but out of joy, not as a brilliant egoist but as a dedicated spirit, conscious that his genius was a gift from the divine, to be used in the service of man.” Although his writing is deeply rooted in Indian social history, Tagore’s gift for expressing the unity of life and the grandeur of man gives it universal appeal.

Bibliography

Banerjee, Hiranmay. Rabindranath Tagore. 2d ed. New Delhi: Government of India, 1976. One of a series about eminent leaders of India, this biographical narrative presents the depth and diversity of Tagore’s character and his contributions to the heritage of India. It includes genealogical tables and a chronological list of his important works.

Ghose, Sisirkumar. Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi: Sahitya Adademi, 1986. This short, interesting survey focuses on Tagore’s life and his poetry, drama, short stories, and novels. It also includes chapters on Tagore’s thoughts about religion, beauty, art, and education.

Henn, Katherine. Rabindranath Tagore: A Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985. This impressive, comprehensive bibliography will be useful both for general readers and for serious Tagore scholars. With short annotations, it includes Tagore’s works—classified into nineteen categories—and works written in English about him up to the early 1980’s.

Kripalani, Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore. 2d ed. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1980. Written by a scholar well acquainted with the Tagore family, this interesting, 450-page work is considered the best English biography of Tagore. Includes twenty-three photographic illustrations as well as a detailed bibliography of Tagore’s fiction, nonfiction, and musical compositions.

Lago, Mary M. Rabindranath Tagore. Boston: Twayne, 1976. This literary study concentrates on representative works by Tagore as a lyric poet and writer of short fiction. It suggests a perspective from which to view national and international response to Tagore’s distinguished career and includes a chronology and selected bibliography.

Mukherjee, Kedar Nath. Political Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi: S. Chand, 1982. In this volume, Mukherjee presents an analysis of Tagore’s political philosophy—in order to fill what he perceives as a gap in the literature on Tagore—and emphasizes the value of Tagore’s philosophy in contemporary political situations, both in India and the world.

Singh, Ajai. Rabindranath Tagore: His Imagery and Ideas. Ghaziabad, India: Vimal Prakashan, 1984. One of the few comprehensive considerations of Tagore’s imagery available in English, this study relates Tagore’s images to his thoughts on life, love, beauty, joy, and infinity. It also includes a selected bibliography.

Thompson, Edward. Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work. 2d ed. New York: Haskell House, 1974. A reprint of an earlier edition, this brief survey of Tagore’s writing prior to 1921 includes commentary based on Thompson’s own translations of Tagore’s work.

Thompson, Edward. Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist. London: Oxford University Press, 1926. This was among the first detailed literary studies of Tagore’s work as poet and dramatist and is still considered to be one of the best.

Rabindranath Tagore Biography (Survey of World Philosophers)

0111200546-Tagore.jpgRabindranath Tagore (©The Nobel Foundation) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Nobel laureate Tagore, known for his lyric poetry, synthesized Eastern and Western spirituality in his numerous literary and philosophical works. He described a “religion of man,” which emphasized the divinity of humanity and the humanity of God.

Early Life

Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861, into a prosperous Bengali family in Calcutta, India. The fourteenth child and eighth son of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi, he grew up surrounded by the artistic and intellectual pursuits of his elders. Agricultural landholdings in East Bengal supported the family’s leisurely lifestyle, and their Calcutta mansion was a center for Bengalis who, like the Tagores, sought to integrate Western influences in literature, philosophy, arts, and sciences into their own culture. Young Tagore was a sensitive and interested child who, like his siblings, lived in awe of his father, a pillar of the Hindu reform group Brahmo Samaj. Cared for mainly by servants because of his mother’s ill health, he lived a relatively confined existence, watching the life of crowded Calcutta from the windows and courtyards of his protected home.

From an early age, Tagore’s literary talents were encouraged. Like the other Tagore children, he was thoroughly schooled in Bengali language and literature as a foundation for integrating culturally diverse influences, and, throughout his long career, Tagore composed most of his work in Bengali. In 1868, he was enrolled in the Oriental Seminary, where he quickly rebelled against formal education. Unhappy, transferring to different schools, Tagore nevertheless became appreciated as a budding poet during this time both in school and at home. In 1873, he was withdrawn from school to accompany his father on a tour of northern India and the Himalayas. This journey served as a rite of passage for the boy, who was deeply influenced by his father’s presence and by the grandeur of nature. It also provided his first opportunity to roam in the open countryside.

Returning to Calcutta, Tagore boycotted school and, from 1873 on, was educated at home by tutors and his brothers. In 1874, he began to recite publicly his poetry, and his first long poem was published in the monthly journal Bhārati. For the next four years, he gave recitations and published stories, essays, and experiments in drama. In 1878, Tagore went to England to prepare for a career in law at University College, London, but he withdrew in 1880 and returned to India. Tagore’s stay in England was not a happy one, but during those fourteen months, his intellectual horizons broadened as he read English literature with Henry Morley and became acquainted with European music and drama.

Life’s Work

Returning to India, Tagore resumed his writing amid the intellectual family life in Calcutta, especially influenced by his talented elder brothers, Jyotirindranath (writer, translator, playwright, and musician) and the scholarly Satyendranath. Tagore’s view of life at this time was melancholy; yet, with the metrical liberty of his poems in Sandhya Sangit (1882; evening songs), it became clear that he was already establishing new artistic and literary standards. Tagore then had a transcendental experience that abruptly changed his work. His gloomy introspection expanded in bliss and insight into the outer world, and Tagore once again perceived the innocent communion with nature that he had known as a child. This vision was reflected in Prabhat Sangit (1883; morning songs), and his new style was immediately popular. By his mid-twenties, Tagore had published devotional songs, poetry, drama, and literary criticism and was established as a lyric poet, primarily influenced by the early Vaishnava lyricists of Bengal and by the English Romantics. In 1883, he married Mrinalini Devi and continued to reflect his optimism in a burst of creativity that lasted for the next twenty years. During this period, he began to write nonsymbolic drama, and his verse Kari O Komal (1887; sharps and flats) is considered a high point in his early lyrical achievement.

In 1890, Tagore’s father sent him to Shelaidaha, the family home in eastern Bengal, to oversee the family estates, and thus began the most productive period of Tagore’s prolific career. His sympathetic observation of the daily activity of the Bengali peasant, as well as an intimacy with the seasons and moods of the rural countryside, sharpened Tagore’s literary sensitivity and provided him with subject matter for his poems and essays during the 1890’s. Tagore also wrote short stories—developing the genre in Bengali literature—and in 1891 started the monthly journal Sadhana, in which he published some of his work. In addition to literary output, Tagore began to lecture and write on his educational theories and the politics of Bengal, and he came more and more into public life. In 1898, he took his family to live in Shelaidaha, planning to spare his children the schooling against which he rebelled by educating them himself. The family soon moved to Santiniketan at Bolpur, where Tagore founded his experimental school, which became a lifelong commitment. He continued to write ceaselessly during this time: stories, poems, essays, textbooks, and a history of India. In 1901, he became editor of The Bengal Review and also launched into a period as a novelist, reflecting the political situation of the time in his work. Tagore’s Gora (1910; English translation, 1924) is considered by many to be the greatest Bengali novel.

The year 1902 saw the school in serious financial condition and also brought the death of Tagore’s wife. Others close to him passed away—his daughter in 1903, his favorite pupil in 1904, and his father in 1905—and Tagore experienced a time of withdrawal. In 1905, he was pulled back into public life by the division of Bengal. Tagore served as a highly visible leader in the antipartition nationalist movement and composed patriotic prose and songs popular with the people. In 1907, however, concerned about growing violence in the movement and its lack of social reform, Tagore suddenly withdrew from politics and retired to Santiniketan, where he resumed a life of educational and literary activity and meditation. Tagore’s intuitive belief in the spirituality of life and the inherent divinity of all things was reflected in his work during this time: educational addresses at his school, a series of symbolic dramas that criticized monarchy, and an outpouring of religious poetry expressing his extremely intimate realization of God. A collection of such poems was published as Gitānjali (1910; Gitanjali [Song Offerings], 1912). During his time in relative seclusion, Tagore the individual poet became, more and more, Tagore the universal person. When next he emerged, it would be to international acclaim.

Tagore became known outside India through the influence of the English painter William Rothstein, the organizer of the India Society in London. Rothstein arranged to publish a private edition of Gitānjali for India Society members, and, in 1912, Tagore’s English translation appeared with an introduction by William Butler Yeats. Tagore and his poetry were introduced to influential critics and writers such as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, John Galsworthy, John Masefield, Ernest Rhys, and Ezra Pound. His reputation spread to Europe and to the United States, where, in 1912, his work appeared in the journal Poetry and a public edition of Gitānjali was published in 1913. In 1912, and again in 1913, Tagore lectured in the United States on religious and social themes, bringing the wisdom of the East to the West in his desire to move the world toward a true humanity. In November, 1913, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In December, the University of Calcutta conferred upon him an honorary doctorate of letters, and he was knighted by the British government in 1915.

Underlying Tagore’s success at this time was his apprehension about the future. Essentially a nonconformist and solitary soul, Tagore believed that he would have no peace from that time on; this, indeed, did prove to be true. Sudden international recognition brought Tagore intense public response, ranging from adulation to disenchantment, and he was an often misunderstood public figure for the rest of his life. At the height of his popularity, Tagore published Balaka (1916; A Flight of Swans, 1955, 1962), which enhanced his reputation as a mystical poet and is considered by many to be his greatest book of lyrics. He also toured Japan and the United States, giving a series of successful lectures later published as Nationalism and Personality.

Yet Tagore’s reputation began to diminish almost as soon as it reached its peak. Some critics have proposed that the materialistic West was not able to appreciate the spiritual depth of the East, while others suggest that the poet and his publishers were themselves to blame for inept translation and unsystematic presentation. Forced to abandon his lecture tour in 1917 because of ill health, Tagore returned to India to a period of tragedy.

Although he was greatly disturbed by World War I and denounced it in his writings, Tagore was also unable to endorse wholeheartedly the activities of his own culture. In 1918, with the money received from his writing, lectures, and the Nobel Prize, Tagore founded an international university, Visva-Bharati, at Santiniketan. Yet in 1919, as he was forming the nucleus of the faculty, political turmoil in India caused Tagore to resign his knighthood in protest against the British massacre of Indians at Amritsar. As Tagore sought to unify humanity in a world that seemed at odds with his philosophy, he began to find himself less and less popular.

In 1920, Tagore undertook another international lecture tour to raise funds for the school, but the reception in England and the United States was particularly disappointing. During the last two decades of his life, despite increasing ill health, which often forced him to cancel lectures, and problems with public relations, Tagore traveled widely in support of his ideals of a universal humanity and world peace. He also continued to write until the end of his life, mainly poetry—which critics perceive as uneven—and essays. In addition, Tagore began painting as a hobby in his later years and pursued it with increasing seriousness. In 1930, Tagore delivered the Hibbert Lectures at Oxford University, which were published in 1931 as the Religion of Man, and, in 1940, Oxford awarded him an honorary doctorate of letters. Because of frail health, Tagore received this honor at Santiniketan, which had become a permanent residence in his later years. On August 7, 1941, Tagore died at his family home in Calcutta.

Influence

Internationally known as a humanist who sought to reconcile such apparent opposites as humans and nature, materialism and spiritualism, and nationalism and internationalism, Tagore expressed a philosophy that was uniquely his own. His vision of the underlying wholeness of life was based on intuitive synthesis of classic Eastern religious texts and the works of early Indian poets and philosophers with Western thought and modern European literature. In the East, he is known as a great poet and thinker; in the West, he is best known as the author of Gitānjali, which is characteristic of his work and considered to be his masterpiece. Recognized as a prolific and accomplished writer in all genres, Tagore is internationally acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest lyric poets as well as a great Eastern philosopher.

Tagore, a man of great courage and gentleness, of nobility and grace, is generally viewed as a symbol of the integration of East and West. Yet, many critics believe that the West has known him only superficially. They suggest that much of Tagore’s best work remains accessible only in Bengali, and reading Tagore in translation—even his own translation—offers no real appreciation of his scope or the depth of his genius. Tagore’s biographer, Kripalani, stated that “he lived as he wrote, not for pleasure or profit but out of joy, not as a brilliant egoist but as a dedicated spirit, conscious that his genius was a gift from the divine, to be used in the service of man.” Although his writing is deeply rooted in Indian social history, Tagore’s gift for expressing the unity of life and the grandeur of humanity gives it universal appeal.

Additional Reading

Banerjee, Hiranmay. Rabindranath Tagore. 2d ed. New Delhi: Government of India, 1976. One of a series about eminent leaders of India, this biographical narrative presents the depth and diversity of Rabindranath Tagore’s character and his contributions to the heritage of India. It includes genealogical tables and a chronological list of his important works.

Cenkner, William. The Hindu Personality in Education: Tagore, Gandhi, Aurobindo. Columbia, Mo.: South Asia Books, 1976. Focuses on Tagore’s role as the leading Asian educator of the first half of the twentieth century. Surveys his life, thought, and educational theories.

Chatterjee, Bhabatosh. Rabindranath Tagore and Modern Sensibility. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996. This book offers criticism and interpretation of Tagore’s work.

Dutta, Krishna, and Andrew Robinson. Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. This work focuses on the many facets of Tagore.

Ghose, Sisirkumar. Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi: Sahitya Adademi, 1986. This short, interesting survey focuses on Tagore’s life and his poetry, drama, short stories, and novels. It also includes chapters on Tagore’s thoughts about religion, beauty, art, and education.

Kripalani, Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore. 2d ed. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1980. Written by a scholar well acquainted with the Tagore family, this interesting, 450-page work is considered the best English biography of Tagore. Includes twenty-three photographic illustrations as well as a detailed bibliography of Tagore’s fiction, nonfiction, and musical compositions.

Lago, Mary M. Rabindranath Tagore. Boston: Twayne, 1976. This literary study concentrates on representative works by Tagore as a lyric poet and writer of short fiction. It suggests a perspective from which to view the national and international response to Tagore’s distinguished career and includes a chronology and selected bibliography.

Mitra, Indrani. “I Will Make Bimala One with My Country: Gender and Nationalism in Tagore’s The Home and the World.” Modern Fiction Studies 41 (1995): 243-64. Outlines the historical context of Tagore’s novel and analyzes its treatment of political action and women’s oppression.

Mukherjee, Kedar Nath. Political Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi: S. Chand, 1982. In this volume, Mukherjee presents an analysis of Tagore’s political philosophy—in order to fill what he perceives as a gap in the literature on Tagore—and emphasizes the value of Tagore’s philosophy in contemporary political situations, both in India and the world.

Singh, Ajai. Rabindranath Tagore: His Imagery and Ideas. Ghaziabad, India: Vimal Prakashan, 1984. This comprehensive consideration of Tagore’s imagery relates Tagore’s images to his thoughts on life, love, beauty, joy, and infinity. It also includes a selected bibliography.

Thompson, Edward. Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work. 2d ed. New York: Haskell House, 1974. A reprint of an earlier edition, this brief survey of Tagore’s writing prior to 1921 includes commentary based on Thompson’s own translations of Tagore’s work.

Thompson, Edward. Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist. London: Oxford University Press, 1926. This was among the first detailed literary studies of Tagore’s work as poet and dramatist and is still considered one of the best.

Bibliography updated by William Nelles

Rabindranath Tagore Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The youngest of fourteen children, Rabindranath Tagore was born into the gifted and aristocratic Tagore family, one of the most important households in the history of nineteenth century Calcutta, capital of British India. He received an enlightened upbringing at home, in an atmosphere in which the spirit of knowledge reigned supreme, in which intellectual discussions on international subjects were encouraged, and in which all members of the large joint family regularly participated in a variety of cultural activities. His career in school was undistinguished—he disliked its institutionalized discipline and often played truant. In any case the education imparted at home in tutorial sessions conducted by his elder brothers was probably more substantial, as was the influence of the personality, erudition, and spiritualism of Debendranath Tagore, his father. He wrote his first poem when he was eight years old and had his first poem published at the age of fourteen. At sixteen he made his acting debut, in his brother Jyotirindranath’s adaptation of Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670; The Would-Be Gentleman, 1675). At the age of eighteen, he began writing his first play, in verse, and at twenty, he had composed and acted the lead role in his first musical.

In 1878, Tagore was sent to England to complete his studies, but with characteristic indifference he left University College, London (where he was to study law), and returned home. He married Mrinalini Devi, of Jessore (now in Bangladesh), in 1883. His father dispatched him in 1890 to Shelaidaha in East Bengal, to oversee the family estates there. This sojourn placed him in intimate contact with rural Bengal and her people. The exposure at home to the world of learning, humanities, and the arts had been one permanent influence on Tagore. The deep religious convictions and philosophical nature of his father had also affected him. His experience with formal academics had made a significant impact on his attitude toward human-made institutions. In Shelaidaha, he absorbed the physical details that he would use in his writings: The empathic observation of nature in all its moods and the keen awareness of the simple life of the Bengali peasant led him to perceive the strong bond between nature and humans immanent in the physical world. His most romantic and lyrical plays (notably Chitra) date from this period. They were all written in verse.

The Shelaidaha period came to an end in 1901, when Tagore moved to Shantiniketan, a starkly beautiful spot in West Bengal that his father used as a retreat for meditation. Here he decided to establish his own school, but finances were short, and a series of private tragedies beset him. Mrinalini Devi died prematurely in 1902, his thirteen-year-old daughter, Renuka, died in 1903, Debendranath Tagore, in 1905, and his youngest son, Somendranath, in 1907. The pain of these deaths expresses itself to some extent explicitly in The Post Office and implicitly in The King of the Dark Chamber and The Cycle of Spring. At this point, prose became the dominant medium of his plays; he would never revert to writing verse drama again. Tagore took part during this time in nationalist protests against the British but soon withdrew from active politics. In 1912, he accompanied his son Rathindranath—who had been graduated from and wished to complete a doctorate at the University of Illinois—to the United States. On their way, in London, he showed his acquaintance the painter William Rothenstein a few English translations he had made of his own poems from the collection Gitnjali (1910). Through Rothenstein’s good offices, these exercises were published in 1912 as Gitanjali (Song Offerings), which eventually won for Tagore the Nobel Prize.

Tagore spent the winter of 1912-1913 in the United States, lecturing in several cities. The announcement of his Nobel Prize later in 1913 made him an instant celebrity all over the world. For the remainder of his life, his presence was in such great demand everywhere that he had to undertake about a dozen foreign tours of North and South America, England, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Far East. In 1918, he laid the foundation stone for the Visvabharati University at Shantiniketan and, in 1922, inaugurated Shriniketan, its sister township and rural development center. The amazing thing is that in spite of all these commitments, the prodigious flow of his writing continued unabated. In fact, he wrote as many as twelve of his major plays in this last period, the 1920’s and 1930’s being particularly productive in the field of drama.

Rabindranath Tagore Biography (World Poets and Poetry)

Rabindranath Tagore was born into a wealthy, influential, and culturally active Brahmin family. The name Tagore is an English corruption of the title Thakur (that is, Brahmin), and the name Rabindranath means “lord of the sun” (rabi means “the sun”). Tagore’s father was Maharishi (Great Sage) Devendranath Tagore, an important religious writer and leader of Brahmo Samaj (Society of God), a new monotheistic religion founded on a return to the Upanishads and progressive political ideas. A response both to orthodox Hinduism (characterized by idolatry, the caste system, suttee, and similar oppressive practices) and to Western culture (especially Christianity), the reformist Brahmo Samaj virtually defined the development of Tagore’s own thought.

Despite his apparent advantages, Tagore, the youngest of fourteen children, had a difficult childhood. His father was involved with his activities as a maharishi, and Tagore’s mother was sickly (she died when he was thirteen). The infant Rabi was turned over to the care of servants, who simplified their duties by confining him within rooms and chalk circles. He did not last long in any of the several schools he attended, consequently receiving little formal education. He was saved by his father and family activities. At the age of twelve, he accompanied his father, whom he idolized, on an extended journey to Santiniketan (his father’s rural retreat, about one hundred miles west of Calcutta), Amritsar, and the Himalayas, where they lived in a mountain hut and where his father instructed him. On his return to Calcutta, the young Tagore gradually became involved in family activities.

The family was ostracized by orthodox Hindus, thus leaving the Tagores free to do as they pleased. As a result, the family home, Jorasanko Palace, was the cultural center of Calcutta, buzzing with more than a hundred inhabitants as well as a steady flow of distinguished visitors—reformist religious leaders, nationalist politicians, writers, artists, and musicians. The evenings were filled with musical performances, plays, readings, and discussions that lasted far into the night. Even the women were involved, further scandalizing the neighbors, who still practiced purdah (the formal seclusion of women from public view). The lively teenage Tagore plunged into this activity, contributing songs, readings, and critical observations. When, in 1877, the family started its own monthly magazine, Bharati, the sixteen-year-old Tagore helped edit it and was a main contributor. What better education could one find for Tagore the writer (not to mention Tagore the singer, songwriter, actor, critic, politician, philosopher, and artist)?

One more try at formal education occurred in 1878, when Tagore was sent to Great Britain to prepare to study law, first at a school in Brighton, then at University College, London. He continued to make contributions to Bharati, expressing his dislike for the British people and his love for British literature (especially William Shakespeare and the Romantics). After two years, Tagore returned home, and in 1883, a marriage was arranged for him with Mrinalini Devi (then only nine years old), whom he called Nalini. In 1891, they settled down in Shelidah, where Tagore’s father assigned him to manage the family estates and where Tagore for the first time came into direct contact with the Indian countryside and peasant life. This period was an eye-opener for Tagore, providing him with some of his best material for short stories. (For example, he rescued a tenant’s wife who was being swept down a flooding river, but did she thank him? No, she was trying to commit suicide.) Sympathy for the conditions of peasant life also deepened his involvement in the growing Indian Nationalist movement, for which he wrote and made speeches. When the Nationalist movement eventually became violent, however, he broke off his involvement and withdrew to Santiniketan (which, appropriately, means “abode of peace”). Later, he would come to believe that nationalism is one of the great evils of the modern world.

In 1901, Tagore began his career as an educator, starting a school at Santiniketan. It is ironic, but understandable, that the dropout should become the educator; some of his five children were of school age, and, recalling his school experience, he had his own ideas about how to teach them. These ideas he put into practice at Santiniketan. He was also responding to the conditions around him, seeking to uplift his countrymen in a way that did not involve violence. Besides, there was always something of the teacher in Tagore, as shown by his campaign to enlighten first his own countrymen and later the West. The teacher comes out frequently (though indirectly) in his poetry, in which he sometimes seems to adopt the stance of the Great Sage. Above all, Tagore was interested in seeing certain ideas prevail, as proclaimed by the motto of Santiniketan: “Santam, sivam, advaitam” (peace, good, union).

The early years at Santiniketan were marred for Tagore by great personal loss: In 1902 his wife died, in 1904 his eldest daughter, in 1905 his father, and in 1907 his youngest son. However, the deepening process of meditating on these losses produced his best poetry, Gitanjali Song Offerings and A Flight of Swans. The school was also in constant need of money, which eventually required him to make several fund-raising and lecture trips to the United States, Great Britain, and the European Continent. These journeys established him as an ambassador to the West—a role he found much easier to fill after he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. Everywhere he went, he was received as the Great Sage, and he was awarded numerous honors (such as a British knighthood in 1915). He visited the Soviet Union and Japan, both of which he admired, but he criticized Communist suppression of individual rights and the militant nationalism of the Japanese. He was especially appalled by Japanese efforts to conquer China.

Tagore’s last years were spent in traveling, in expanding the Santiniketan complex, in practicing a new art (painting), and in pointing the world toward peace. In 1922, he established Sriniketan (abode of grace), an institute for agriculture and rural reconstruction, and Visva-Bharati (universal voice), an international university for bringing the message of the East to the West. His paintings were exhibited in Europe to favorable reviews. He was disappointed in his work for peace, thinking that nations that had endured one world war would not want another. The 1930’s were increasingly depressing for him, and he died in 1941, just as World War II was reaching its full incarnation.

Rabindranath Tagore Biography (Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

0111200546-Tagore.jpgRabindranath Tagore (©The Nobel Foundation) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Author Profile

Tagore began to write poetry as a child. His first book was published when he was seventeen years old. After returning to India from a trip to England in 1878 to study law, he became the most popular author of the colonial era. Through the short stories, novels, and plays that he wrote, he conveyed his belief that truth lies in seeing the harmony of apparently contrary forces. He was not interested in building a philosophical system; instead he wanted to deepen mutual Indian and Western cultural understanding. He was very much influenced by the Upanisads but interpreted them theistically. His artistic nature made him more of a follower of the way of bhakti, or “devotion,” than of the way of jñāna, or “knowledge,” of Advaita Vedānta. Because he believed in the harmony of complementary forces, however, he did not reject the Advaita, or monistic, view of Vedānta. In Tagore’s view, both the one and the many are real. The doctrine of māyā, or illusion, points to the false belief that the world is independently real. God, humanity, and the world are interrelated. Tagore viewed life in a positive way, as the discovery of the divine nature of humanity.

Bibliography

Chakraverty, Bishweshwar. Tagore, the Dramatist: A Critical Study. 4 vols. Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 2000. A scholarly study of Tagore’s drama, organized by genre type. Bibliography and index.

Chatterjee, Bhabatosh. Rabindranath Tagore and Modern Sensibility. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996. A collection of the author’s original essays about Tagore’s writings, reanalyzed for this book.

Dutta, Krishna, and Andrew Robinson. Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. A complete biography of Tagore, with references to his works.

Ivbulis, Viktors. Tagore: East and West Cultural Unity. Calcutta: Rabindra Bharati University, 1999. The author looks at the influence of both the West and the East in Tagore’s work. Bibliography.

Kripalani, Krishna. Tagore: A Life. New Delhi: Malancha, 1961. Biography and works are closely interwoven in this text. The drawings and photographs of and by Tagore, his family, and his friends are extremely interesting.

Lago, Mary. Rabindranath Tagore. Boston: Twayne, 1976. The book includes an outline biography and an analysis of each of the major genres in which Tagore wrote.

Mitra, Indrani. “I Will Make Bimala One with My Country: Gender and Nationalism in Tagore’s The Home and the World.” Modern Fiction Studies 41 (1995): 243-64. Outlines the historical context of Tagore’s novel and analyzes its treatment of political action and women’s oppression.

Morash, Chris, ed. Creativity and Its Contexts. Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1995. A collection of essays about regionalism and creativity for several writers. Indian novelist Anita Desai wrote the essay on Tagore.

Mukherjee, Kedar Nath. Political Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi: S. Chand, 1982. In this volume, Mukherjee presents an analysis of Tagore’s political philosophy—in order to fill what he perceives as a gap in the literature on Tagore—and emphasizes the value of Tagore’s philosophy in contemporary political situations, both in India and the world.

Nandi, Sudhirakumara. Art and Aesthetics of Rabindra Nath Tagore. Calcutta, India: Asiatic Society, 1999. Nandi analyzes the Tagore’s aesthetics as expressed in his writings. Bibliography and index.

Nandy, Ashis. The Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. This study focuses on the political and social views of Tagore as demonstrated by his life and writings. Bibliography and index.

Nandy, Ashish. Return from Exile. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. An analysis of Tagore’s political writing which puts him in the context of India’s move in the 1920’s toward nationalism. This, in turn, illuminates some of the philosophy and themes in his other writing.

Roy, R. N. Rabindranath Tagore, the Dramatist. Calcutta, India: A. Mukherjee, 1992. A study of Tagore that focuses on his dramatic works.

Rabindranath Tagore Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111200546-Tagore.jpgRabindranath Tagore Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Rabindranath Tagore (tuh-GOR), whose name is sometimes transliterated as Ravindranatha Thakura, was born in Calcutta, India, on May 7, 1861, the fourteenth of fifteen children of Devendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi Tagore. His grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, was a Brahman, a landowner, and the wealthiest Indian merchant of his time, as well as a reformer strongly influenced by the European Enlightenment. Rabindranath’s father, Devendranath, was also reform-minded. He became a leader of the Brahma Samaj, a sect founded by Dwarkanath’s friend Raja Rammohan Roy, which scandalized traditional Hindus by rejecting polytheism, ritualistic worship, and the caste system. Devendranath’s broad-mindedness in religious matters and his emphasis on the spiritual rather than the material is reflected in Rabindranath’s thought and in his writings.

Rabindranath grew up in the mansion his grandfather had built in Jorasanko, north of Calcutta. The Jorasanko mansion was the most important cultural center in the area. The Tagores and their friends read and discussed the literature of various countries, speculated about ideas, and made plans for the social, educational, and economic reforms that India so clearly needed. Unlike many Indians of their time, the Tagores did not abandon their own traditions; instead, they sought to achieve a synthesis between British culture and their own. It is hardly surprising, then, that while Rabindranath knew English well, throughout his life almost all of his creative works were written in Bengali, rather than in English.

Though Rabindranath attended several different schools, he was uninspired by his teachers and rebelled against the rigidity of the system. His learned far more from the discussions he heard at home, from talks with his tutors, and from reading whatever interested him. It soon became clear that he was meant to be a writer. His first poem was published when he was thirteen, and a collection of his poetry appeared four years later. In 1878, the family sent him to England to study law, but after two unproductive years there he returned to India, where Rabindranath and his brilliant older brother Jyotirindranath founded a literary journal and collaborated on an opera. Meanwhile, Rabindranath himself wrote songs, poems, plays, and essays.

In 1883, Rabindranath’s father found him a wife, the ten-year-old daughter of an employee on one of the Tagore estates. The family changed her name, Bhabatarini, to the more euphonious Mrinalini. Since she was barely literate, arrangements were made for her to receive some education. The couple had three daughters and two sons. However, their family life was marked by tragedy. Tagore’s wife died in 1902, their daughter Renuka in 1903, and their son Samindranath in 1907. In 1905, Tagore lost his father. His eldest daughter, Bela, would die in 1918.

After Tagore returned from a brief trip to England in 1890, his father had decided to give him some practical business experience by making him manager of the family estates in eastern Bengal. There Tagore became acutely aware of the plight of the rural poor. Not only did he make their hardships the subject matter of much of his short fiction, but he also took practical steps to alleviate their poverty by setting up a weaving school, an agricultural cooperative bank, and an agricultural institute. His long-standing dissatisfaction with traditional educational methods also inspired him to establish an experimental school at Santiniketan. Tagore himself conducted many of the classes there. In 1918, the school became an international university, Visva-Bharati.

In 1912, Tagore scheduled a trip to the United States in order to be present when his surviving son, Rathindranath, graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana. En route, he spent some time in London, where he showed the painter William Rothenstein a collection of his poems, which he had translated into English prose. Rothenstein sent a copy of the manuscript to the famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and Tagore was soon the toast of the literary community. In November, 1912, the India Society of London brought out a limited edition of Gitnjali (1910; Gitanjali Song Offerings, 1912); after it sold out, Macmillan took over publication of the volume. On November 14, 1913, Tagore was informed that he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Asian to be so honored.

During his first visit to the United States, Tagore lectured in Urbana, in Chicago, and at Harvard University. Over the next two decades, he would travel throughout the world, giving readings or lectures, the proceeds of which went to his educational projects. Meanwhile, Tagore continued to turn out creative works. His poems, plays, and fiction were translated into English and then into numerous other languages. In the 1930’s, Tagore took up painting and soon attained recognition as one of India’s finest artists.

It is ironic that though Tagore had long been recognized in India as the preeminent Bengali man of letters, he did not attain an international reputation until he was in his early fifties, when his works appeared in English and he was awarded the Nobel Prize. Thereafter, almost every year brought him a new honor. For example, in 1915, Tagore was knighted by the British government, though four years later he resigned his knighthood as a protest against the Amritsar Massacre. On his seventieth birthday in 1931, he was given The Golden Book of Tagore, a compilation of tributes from people throughout the world. In 1940, Oxford University awarded him a doctorate in literature, but ill health prevented him from receiving the degree in person. Tagore died on August 7, 1941.

Rabindranath Tagore Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry, his plays, his fiction, and his prose are all infused with the writer’s belief that the goal of human life is union with the divine, a being who is always accessible in prayer and in nature. An obsession with material goods, social status, or power shrinks the soul and harms both other individuals and society as a whole. So do rampant nationalism and narrow adherence to religious creeds. Even though Tagore recognizes the fact that in this world the righteous often suffer, he believes that only a soul that is unpolluted can know the joy of that mystic union.

His Bengali writings brought Tagore recognition as the father of modern Bengali literature. His English works and his translations made him famous throughout the world. However, it is not just his originality and his lyricism that account for the high regard in which he is still held. Above all, he is valued as a profound thinker and a deeply spiritual man.

Rabindranath Tagore Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rabindranath Tagore (tah-GOR), who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, is considered the founder and shaper of modern Bengali-language literature. He was the fourteenth of fifteen children born to Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. His mother, Sarada, died when he was thirteen years old. His name Rabin means Lord of the Sun. Tagore’s ancestors came from what is now Bangladesh to live in Calcutta, located in the eastern region of India known as Bengal. His immediate family was wealthy by Indian standards of the time; his grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, was referred to as a prince.

Tagore was a precocious child who was educated primarily at home by tutors. He wrote his first poem at the age of eight. The household of his family in Calcutta was like a small city, populated by immediate family, in-laws, servants of all sorts, and tutors. The family also owned vast agricultural estates in eastern Bengal, and they would prove to be a big influence on both the topics and the themes of much of his work. Tagore married Mrinalini Devi when she was eleven years old and he was twenty-two.

He first traveled to the family’s rural estates, an area called Santiniketan, and North India, including the Himalayas, with his father in 1873. This trip was shortly after the investiture of the sacred thread, a Hindu religious rite-of-passage ceremony. This trip and his numerous returns to the area are much in evidence in his writings, particularly in his short stories, sensitive tales of the simple village life he observed, which was so different from the frenetic pace of the Tagore household and life in Calcutta. “The Postmaster” is a classic representation.

Tagore is first and foremost a lyric poet; in his lifetime he published fifty-four collections of Bengali poems, and six more were published posthumously. Gitnjali was the collection primarily responsible for his getting the attention that led to the Nobel Prize. Tagore began writing short stories in the 1890’s and eventually published more than ninety of them. He wrote nearly fifty dramas, though only a fraction of them were translated into English. During the period 1883 to 1934, he published ten Bengali novels, one-third of them translated into English. Tagore’s nonfiction prose, including songs, essays, lectures, sermons, and instructional writings, runs into the thousands of pages, but little of it has been translated. During his lifetime, Tagore translated many of his own works into English. His song “Our Golden Bengal” became the national anthem of Bangladesh. Near the end of his life, he became a prolific painter, producing twenty-five hundred pieces.

In addition to his well-to-do, intense family life and his ability to travel, other influences on Tagore were British colonialism, begun in India in 1690 with the establishment of the East India Company, and his family’s adherence to the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Because of colonialism, he was exposed early in life to the literature of William Shakespeare, John Milton, and George Gordon, Lord Byron, who became his particular favorites, as well as the philosophy of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Other literary influences (Tagore read them in their original languages) included Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Guy de Maupassant. Tagore attended University College, London for one year. He was knighted by the British in 1915 but resigned his knighthood in 1919, after the Amritsar Massacre, when the British army slaughtered hundreds of innocent Indian men, women, and children.

Vaishnavism emphasizes worship of Vishnu, the Preserver. It puts no restrictions on caste, class, or gender, and central to its tenets is pursuit of the enigmatic, personal relationship between the Creator and humans. A major component of the faith is worshiping through songs. Themes that weave throughout Tagore’s works, regardless of genre, have to do with the remoteness of nature and the human dimension, the world beyond India and attempts to coalesce or synthesize opposites, including Eastern and Western cultures or a search for the universal.

Throughout his life, beginning with his first trip to London in 1879, Tagore traveled widely and frequently. In addition to trips to Europe, he visited the United States several times as well as Japan and China. His travels brought him friendships and contacts with famous contemporary Western writers such as William Butler Yeats and Ezra Pound.

Physically, Tagore resembled the West’s idea of what a poet and holy man from the East should look like. His appearance, in the flowing robes of traditional Bengali dress, with long hair and beard, and what some describe as the romantic quality of his writing, both helped and hurt the initial acceptance of and the legacy of his work.

Rabindranath Tagore Biography (Poetry for Students)

Tagore was born on May 7, 1861, in Calcutta, India. He was the youngest of fourteen children. His father, Debendranath Tagore, was a writer,...

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